Oh, the tyranny of the public library’s reserve system! Having read William Boyd’s Any Human Heart just a couple of weeks ago, I should probably not have embarked on another Boyd novel so soon but Waiting for Sunrise is popular in the New York Public Library’s branches, so I snagged it when I could. And now I’m thinking … meh.
Haven’t I read this book? Or won’t I read it again shortly, when the NYPL delivers Alan Furst’s Mission to Paris to my local branch? Oh, I know, different wars, different countries, but two books about actor/spies in European locations…. There’s going to be substantial similarity. Especially when Boyd seems to have intentionally written An Espionage Novel. Full of plot twists and double-crossing and sinister women in widow’s weeds. Don’t get me wrong, Waiting for Sunrise was entertaining and well-executed. And I adored the name of the hero: Lysander Rief. But despite Boyd’s professionalism, despite a structure that included Lysander’s autobiographical jottings (prompted by his psychoanalysis in Vienna in 1913), this protagonist feels hollow. And, yes, I’m aware of the knowingness, the faint authorial distance signaled by po-mo devices like inserted poetry or dialogue delivered in script format… for the actors, get it? Yes, Lysander’s poetry moves from pseudo-Tennyson in 1913 to pseudo-moderno in 1916. That shows we’ve left the 19th century for good.
Listen, this is a perfectly entertaining spy novel and better-written than most. So if you think you’ll enjoy the Vienna/London/Switzerland travel itinerary, the details of Lysander’s self-transformations, the breezily frank sex and the stylishly inconclusive finish, go to it. And by the way, Joseph Kanon’s got a new book out, too. We won’t lack for entertainment this summer.